Hurricane Irma regained strength to a Category 4 storm on Sunday (Sep 10) as it began pummeling Florida and threatening landfall within hours.
The eye of the Category 4 storm slammed into the lower Florida Keys and was 15 miles (24 kilometers) southeast of Key West as of 7:00 am local time (1100 GMT), bringing winds up to 130 miles per hour and threatening dangerous storm surges.
The storm was expected to move along or near Florida’s southwest Gulf coast later Sunday and into Monday.
Authorities in the state have ordered more than 6 million people to evacuate.
At least 25 people have been killed since Irma began its devastating march through the Caribbean earlier this week.
It made landfall in Cuba’s Camaguey archipelago late on Friday.
A second Category 4 hurricane, Jose, followed part of Irma’s track, but spared the storm-hit Caribbean islands of St Martin and St Barts, which had already suffered catastrophic damage from Irma.
Jose is expected to veer north and pose no threat to the United States.
TOLL FROM IRMA
The death toll stands at least 25 – 12 in the French island of St Barts and the Dutch-French territory of St Martin; six in British Caribbean islands; at least four in the US Virgin Islands; at least two in Puerto Rico; and one in Barbuda.
The International Red Cross says 1.2 million people have already been affected by Irma — a number that could rise to 26 million.
The bill for loss and damage could hit $120 billion (100 billion euros) in the United States and Caribbean, according to data modelling firm Enki Research.
– Barbuda –
Irma hit the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda on Wednesday with winds up to 295 kph. The island suffered “absolute devastation,” with up to 30 percent of properties demolished, Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.
One person is known to have died on the island of 1,600 residents, apparently a child whose family was trying to get to safer ground.
– St Barts, St Martin and Anguilla –
Irma then slammed into the holiday islands of St Barts and St Martin, wielding monster winds and torrential rain.
St Martin is divided between France and the Netherlands. France said 10 people had died on its side of the island, while the Netherlands said the storm killed two on the Dutch side, called Sint Maarten.
On the Dutch side, 70 percent of the infrastructure has been destroyed.
In the British archipelago of Anguilla, one man was crushed to death in a house collapse.
– British Virgin Islands –
Five people have been killed in the British Virgin Islands, according to the local government.
Just east of Puerto Rico, it is home to roughly 28,000 people and includes British billionaire Richard Branson’s Necker Island.
– US Virgin Islands –
At least four people have been killed in the US Virgin Islands, officials told AFP.
– Puerto Rico –
At least two people were killed in the US territory of Puerto Rico, and more than half of its three million residents were without power after rivers broke their banks in the centre and north of the island.
– Dominican Republic –
Some 20,000 people were evacuated and more than 2,000 homes affected by floods in the Dominican Republic, the eastern part of the island of Hispaniola, which is also shared with Haiti.
– Haiti –
Irma brought flooding and caused several injuries in Haiti, but passed further north than had been forecast, sparing the impoverished island the worst. A number of roads were washed out.
– Cuba –
Irma made landfall on the island’s Camaguey Archipelago late Friday, knocking down power lines, uprooting trees and ripping the roofs off homes.
Authorities said they had evacuated more than a million people as a precaution, including about 4,000 in the capital.
Ambulances and firefighters patrolled streets littered with hunks of roofs, power lines and tree branches brought down by strong winds that blasted over Cuba on Saturday.
IRMA: WHERE NEXT?
Irma roared in to the Florida Keys early Sunday, tracking along the peninsula’s western coast, which faces the Gulf of Mexico, rather than the more heavily populated Atlantic side, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
The US military is mobilising thousands of troops and deploying several large ships to help with evacuations and humanitarian relief.
A state of emergency has been declared in the states of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia. Georgia ordered the evacuation of the city of Savannah and other coastal areas.
HURRICANES JOSE AND KATIA
Hurricane Jose, after strengthening to Category 4 status, passed 135 kilometres (83 miles) north of St Barts and 125 kilometres from Saint Martin.
France’s meteorological agency had issued its highest warning, saying Hurricane Jose could become a “dangerous event of exceptional intensity”.
But “thanks to a passage which was further away than anticipated, the effects on the territory were markedly less,” the meteorological agency said.
Another hurricane, Katia, made landfall in eastern Mexico late Friday killing two people, just as the country grappled with the deaths and damage inflicted by its worst earthquake in a century. – AFP
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